Helensburgh mother vows to fight on

Helensburgh mum Diane Young won't rest until the air, water and soil in the area is tested as part of the NSW Health investigation into a possible cancer cluster.

The Mercury understands an expert panel set up to investigate any evidence of a cancer cluster has not committed to conducting such tests, raising fears the probe will be "incomplete".

"I'm not going away until the air, water and soil is tested," Mrs Young vowed yesterday.

"My support from the community isn't going anywhere either. God forbid another child gets sick this end of town."

Mrs Young's son Matthew was diagnosed with Burkitt's lymphoma three months ago.

He was the sixth child in Helensburgh to be diagnosed with a blood cancer in five years.

Parents fear the cause could be toxic waste and have raised concerns about hot spots including an "old quarry" filled in to make way for houses.

A 2008 investigation into the first three cases ruled out a cancer cluster.

NSW Health announced on October 26 an expert panel would consider any evidence of an unexpected number of cancer cases and any risk factors.

Public health unit acting director Curtis Gregory said the panel would be "allowed the time it needs to examine the issues".

"We will not be pre-judging the findings of the expert panel," he said in response to Mrs Young's concerns.

"The priority of any investigation we undertake is making sure that it is done properly and not simply quickly, however, neither do we wish to delay any findings or results being publicly released."

Mrs Young said she feared the panel had "underestimated the level of concern in this community and the length of time the community has had a concern".

"At minimum I expect the panel to consult with the community and have a community member on the panel," Mrs Young said. "I will tell you that old quarry land infill is an issue that won't go away."

Wollongong councillor Greg Petty is aware of community concerns and has been working with the community since March on this issue.

He has responded to Mrs Young's call and offered to convene a public information session to bring together residents, political representatives and relevant authorities.

He has asked that anyone with details of how the old quarry was filled to contact him directly.

A Wollongong City Council spokesman told the Mercury the health department would keep the council informed of the panel's progress.

"Council hasn't been approached for a place on the panel, nor been involved in testing for the research," the spokesman said.

Meantime, Peabody Energy, owner of the coalmine at Helensburgh, said it was "assisting the Young family by undertaking air quality monitoring at their property in Parkes Street".

"The data from the monitor will provide a better understanding of PM10 [particle pollution] levels at the property, in the Helensburgh township, and contrast Helensburgh's particulate air quality with that of other regions," a Peabody spokeswoman said. "It is important to note that there are a number of natural and anthropogenic influencers of PM10 levels.

"Regardless, historical data from Helensburgh and the Illawarra shows that the levels are low. There are no established links between coal dust emissions and cancers," the spokeswoman said.

Pictured: Stuart Young with his sons Ben, and Matthew, right, who is suffering with a blood cancer, and  their mother Diane Young alongside the Peabody Energy monitoring equipment. Photo: KIRK GILMOUR


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